THE MAN OF GOD
Or "Spiritual Religion
Explained and Enforced"
by Octavius Winslow
"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken
hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining
toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which
God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philip. 3:13-14
"No, dear friends, I am still not all I should be, but I
am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and
looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race
and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up
to heaven." Philip. 3:13-14
We have in these words a practical comment upon a truth
which often engages the anxious study of the man of God- namely, the
difficulty of salvation: "The righteous scarcely are saved." If any man
might indolently have presumed upon the certainty of his salvation, it was
Paul. So remarkable and miraculous were the attendant circumstances of his
conversion, they could scarcely have left the shadow of a doubt upon his
mind as to the reality of his salvation. Yet, conscious as he must have been
that he had passed from death unto life, assured as he was that all who thus
had passed from death unto life should enter glory, behold the noble spirit
of this heavenly-minded man of God: "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet
to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." In expounding these
words, let us consider THE DIGNITY- THE GOAL- THE PRIZE of the man of God.
THE DIGNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER is beautifully placed before us in
this one phrase, "the high calling of God." Under this denomination "the
called of God," 'the whole family' are brought, sooner or later. In their
Adamic nature they are "children of wrath, even as others." In Adam, they
are dead, under the curse, exposed to eternal wrath; but sooner or later, by
the mighty power of God the Spirit, are they brought out of that state, and
are classified as a called people.
I might remark that, in a large and a very solemn sense,
every man who hears the gospel is an outwardly called individual. From this
truth there is no escape. No refining in theology, no plausible creed can
demolish it. We should withhold from you the whole counsel of God, and be
justly chargeable with blood-guiltiness, did we hold back the truth that
every man and woman sitting under the sound of the gospel is, by that
gospel, a called individual, and for the refusal or rejection of that call
is accountable to God. We learn in Luke's Gospel, that the invitation to the
great supper was sent out to all- the image of the glorious gospel which the
Lord, in His holy mountain, had prepared for all people." "Many are called,
but few are chosen."
Yes, my reader, nothing can release you from the solemn
obligation, the awful responsibility of hearing the gospel. Your inability
does not release you, your blindness of mind, your hardness of heart, do not
excuse you no, if you are found rejecting this gospel, turning a deaf ear to
the charmer's voice, trampling upon the glorious invitations of a free-grace
salvation, your present excuse will but augment your future woe; and from
the throne of eternal justice, where you must give an account of all the
sermons you have heard, the awful voice will speak, "I CALLED, and you
refused; I stretched out any hand, and no man regarded; but you have set at
nothing all my counsel, and would have none of any reproof. I also will
laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear comes." Oh, better never
to have seen the light of day, or to have felt one throb of life, than to go
down to everlasting punishment, having heard of Christ but to despise Him;
having heard the gospel but to refuse its acceptance!
But in an especial sense the saints of God are a called
people. To one or two passages, in which the Holy Spirit brings out this
truth so strikingly, we must beg the reader's attention. "We know," (oh yes,
not because others have testified of it, but because we have felt it
ourselves,) "We know that all things work together for good to those who
love God, to those who are the CALLED according to His purpose." Observe,
"Whom He did predestinate, them He also CALLED." We dare not break that
chain, we dare not sever these links.
That, too, is a striking passage in Jude, "Jude, the servant of Jesus
Christ, to those who are sanctified by God the Father; and preserved in
Jesus Christ, and CALLED." The apostle Peter, that dear apostle, at whose
feet we would oftener sit than at any other, because he could teach us what
others could not, in consequence of his fall and recovery, thus exhorts the
saints; "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your CALLING
and election sure" make it evident. Again, "Among whom are you also the
CALLED of Jesus Christ," "CALLED to be saints." What truth can be clearer
than this, that the saints of God are a CALLED people.
It is the way God brings His banished ones to Himself. In
the first Adam they are far off, "The promise is unto you, and to your
children, and to all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God
shall CALL." Oh, how far from God were some of us when that effectual and
blessed call of the Spirit reached our ears! Yet, far off though we were, we
heard that call, and by God's grace we obeyed it.
But look at the character of the believer's calling.
Truly, it is a high calling. It is so because it is a divine and heavenly
calling. It is not the calling of man, but the calling of God. It is not a
calling to earthly dignity, it is a calling to a heavenly state- "the high
calling of God," "called of God" -and the apostle thus addresses the saints:
"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." Who but GOD
could call us? We heard the outward call of the ministry, and resisted it;
we heard the external call of the gospel, and we closed our ears against it;
we heard the call of Providence, and we hardened our hearts against its
voice; but there came a divine and heavenly call- it came from God-I t came
from heaven- it reached our hearts, and it awoke the response, "Speak, Lord,
for Your servant hears."
Whose voice but His can call the dead from the grave?
Whose voice but His can call Ephraim away from his idols? Whose voice but
His can call the worldling from his worldliness? Whose voice but His can
call the covetous man from his covetousness? Whose voice but His can call
the rebel to ground his weapons, and become reconciled to God? It was asked
of old, "Who has heard the voice of God and lived?"
Oh yes; it is a heavenly calling- there is nothing of
earth in it. It is heavenly in its origin, heavenly in its nature, heavenly
in all its tendencies. The affections are heavenly, the desires are
heavenly, the heart is heavenly; it came from heaven, and it lifts to
heaven. To what a holy relation is the believer called! Is it no honor or
dignity to be called a saint? What is a saint? Take the world's definition-
a fanatic, an enthusiast, all that is contemptible and ignoble in intellect!
But to be called a saint is to have a place among God's holy ones; it is to
be a partaker of the divine nature, to be a transcript of God's holiness.
Oh, the high dignity of being a saint! of having
implanted in the soul that germ of holiness that will expand until every
thought of the mind, and every affection of the soul, shall be perfected in
God's holiness! And what a high calling is our adoption to the relationship
of children! To be called a child of God- taken into His family, and
admitted to all the privileges of sons and of daughters, is the noblest
relation to which the soul can be admitted.
The privileges belonging to this high calling stamp its
greatness. Is it no high privilege to be in a state of agreement with God?-
to have the smile of your Father ever beaming down upon you? What a
privilege, too, is access to God! Does God condescend to call you His child,
and Himself your Father, and yet banish you from all communion? Impossible!
We may live inferior to our high calling, but God never loses sight of it.
He has provided for our communion, and bids us draw near. Oh, is it no
privilege to take all our cares and our sorrows to our Father? to pour out
our needs to Him who loves us? Esteem it, my reader, the sweetest, holiest
privilege of the man of God this side heaven.
Let us proceed to show that the Lord Jesus Christ is the "mark" or goal
towards which the believer should be pressing. Observe the state after which
this man of God aimed. He strove after a loftier, holier advancement in this
high and heavenly calling. See his self-renunciation "I count not myself to
have apprehended." How different from the estimation which all his brethren
had of him! They thought him a giant, he knew himself to be a dwarf; they
regarded him as the chief of the apostles, he knew himself to be "less than
the least of all saints."
Learn to estimate lightly, in a sense, by the laudatory
and kind opinion of man. Let it have no unholy or elevating effect upon your
mind; but, when others commend you, go and lay your mouth in the dust before
God. Oh, what an evidence of a man of God is this self-renunciation! No man
can advance in this high calling who has not this for his starting-post. God
raises us from the valley. He lifts us from the dust. God never confers any
especial honor or grace upon His children but He first lays them low. If God
is so dealing with you now, expect an especial blessing "Brethren, I count
not myself to have apprehended." O Lord, give us this crucifixion of self!
Then observe the intensity of his soul, "This one thing I
do." It was the only thing really important in his estimation- before it
everything else gave way. "This one thing I do." And what was that one
thing? It was advancement in his high calling- to become a holier saint, a
closer imitator of Christ. All other things compared with this seemed less
than nothing; and this one thing awoke the profoundest intensity of his
ardent soul. Oh, were this with us the one thing, there would be less
infliction of the rod, less chastening, less trial, less wounding and
disappointment in the absence and failure of all others!
Observe, too, his oblivion of the past: "forgetting those
things that are behind." What things? His sins? Oh no! these he never
forgot. His days of unregeneracy, when he thirsted for the blood of the
saints? No! this he ever remembered with the deepest self-abasement. The
mercies of the Lord that strewed his path? No! not one faded from his
memory. What, then, would he forget? His past spiritual attainments; these
he would not rest in. He seemed to say, "I will forget my past attainments-
attainments in knowledge and in grace; they shall not be the limit of my
spiritual progression: I will press forward as one that has not apprehended,
as he who had made no attainment whatever in the Divine life." This was the
point after which his mighty soul panted.
How many Christians imagine that they have gone the
length and breadth of the good land, because they have just tasted the milk
and the honey, they imagine they have quaffed all the fulness God has
provided? How much there is of which we, as yet, know but a little! How much
we need a deeper knowledge of God- of the riches there are in Christ Jesus-
of the giving up of some fond idol that has taken the place of Jesus!
Forgetting the victories already won, and pressing on to still more
brilliant achievements in the Christian warfare, to still profounder and
loftier attainments in this high and heavenly calling, should be the one
thing we do.
"I press toward the mark." The allusion is to him who, in
the Grecian games, had his eye fixed upon the goal. His eye was not upon the
prize, but upon the mark; the prize was beyond it, and so he pressed on in
the race. What is the "mark" of the believer? What but the Lord Jesus
Christ. Looking unto Jesus, he runs the race set before him. The original
here is most expressive. The Greek conveys the idea of enlargement or scope.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the scope where the believer ranges. He is the
scope of both the Old and New Testament. Both point to Jesus. He is the
substance and glory of both. He is the scope of the law, for He is its end;
He is the scope of the gospel, for He is its substance; He is the scope of
the Christian graces, for they all spring from union to Him; He is the scope
of the promises, for they are all yes and amen in Him.
The apostle had his eye on Jesus. He looked to Jesus
while he ran: "I press toward the mark- Jesus my mark- my scope. Let us "run
the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus." How could we run
without looking to Jesus, our mark? What real advance can we make looking to
ourselves? But looking only to Christ, as bearing us on His heart before His
Father in heaven, the most tried and the weakest child of God can press
onward in the race, and attain to lofty degrees of perfection in this high
and heavenly calling.
This looking to the "mark " also implies an ardent desire
for a close resemblance to Christ. Who can study Christ and not be, in some
measure, like Him? What perfects the student in his art? A close study of
his model. So our looking to Christ will, perhaps imperceptibly to
ourselves, assimilate us to His image, and others beholding us will take
knowledge that we have been with Christ, and learned of Him.
The encouragement is great. The prize is beyond the mark.
First Jesus- then the prize. No crown without the cross; no heaven without
the atonement. If you are looking for the prize, and not to the mark of the
prize, you will never reach it. There is no path to the incorruptible crown
but by Jesus. Bearing His cross, and denying yourselves, you shall know what
it is to wear the incorruptible crown, "which the Lord, the righteous Judge,
shall give you at that day."
In conclusion, what a solemn question, agitating many
hearts- "How may I know that I am called? It was an affliction that first
brought me to think of my soul. God laid His hand upon the dear one of my
heart; or, He touched my property; or, He touched my health. This was His
voice." Well, be it so. Will you doubt your Divine calling because He called
you in the storm and in the tempest? God has "other servants " whom He sends
out when His gospel is resisted. He has touched you where you feel the
keenest; laid you upon a bed of sickness, or "enclosed you within the house
of mourning, and there you have heard His voice."
But I am still afraid I am not one of God's called ones?
" Is Jesus precious to your heart? Do you mourn for sin? Ah, my reader,
those tears are godly tears. The Spirit has broken up that fountain of
feeling, and you weep. Is it your desire and aim to be a more holy child of
God- to be a more Christ-like follower of the Lamb? Oh, then, you are one of
the called ones. That which is in you came from heaven, and to heaven it
ascends; it came from God, and to God it leads. It marks you to be a new
creature in Christ Jesus.
But, I would say, rest not in the region of doubt and
uncertainty; seek advancement in the Divine life. Do not limit yourself;
forget past attainments, and press onward, fixing your eye upon Christ, your
Mark, your Leader, your Pattern, your Scope; and then the glorious prize
shall be yours. Walk worthy of the high vocation where with you are called,
you saints of God! Lay aside whatever is contrary to its heavenliness. "Walk
worthy, of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work,
and increasing in the knowledge of God," and soon the prize will be yours!
Methinks I see it prepared to encircle the brow of some
who have almost reached it. Methinks I see the gemmed crown glistening
before the eye of those who are ready to exclaim, "The time of my departure
is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have
kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day." Yes, the
prize awaits you, saint of God! And you who overcome shall sit down with the
Savior on His throne, wearing that starry diadem, even as He overcame, and
is sat down upon His throne.